Green beans are a part of most every Southern family's suppers. Their key distinction is that they are cooked down in liquid until quite soft, almost to the point of "mush." In traditional Southern cooking, they are also cooked and flavored with ham hocks or pork knuckles. This take on the classic uses a smoked, bone-in ham steak for flavor, which can be found in almost every grocery store. Ground cloves provide a comforting depth of flavor, and a little sugar — a trick used by old-school Southern cooks, including my grandmother — balances the salty, smoky taste.
These beans are soulful and quite satisfying and an easy side to add to your weeknight dinner table.
In traditional Southern cooking, green beans are flavored by ham hocks or pork knuckles to produce a salty, meaty taste. But this recipe takes inspiration from my childhood and uses a smoked, bone-in ham steak. My grandmother drizzled ham steaks with peach juice and dusted them with ground cloves, which was a quick way of getting dinner on the table while adding an element of sophistication to our meal.
Shopping for ham steak: Ham steaks are readily available at supermarkets, usually sold in the bacon section. The bone-in version provides the greatest amount of flavor, but a boneless steak works well too.
These beans honor the traditional cooking method of Southern green beans while borrowing from my grandmother's ham steak dinner trick. The result is a comforting, soulful, Dutch-oven meal that surprises as much as it delights. Sweet onions bring character to the beans, while the cloves provide a comforting depth. White sugar — a trick used by old-school Southern cooks — bridges the ham's salty, smoky taste with the gentle bitterness of the beans. Serve right from the pot with pieces of ham along with the beans.
One-Pot Southern-Style Green Beans
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves, divided
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, diced
2 pounds green beans, stem ends removed
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 1 minute to soften. Add the ham and sprinkle with half of the ground cloves. Cook until the edges of the ham begin to brown and curl, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the ham over, sprinkle with the remaining cloves, and brown for 3 to 4 minutes more.
Move the ham to the side of the pot. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Place the green beans on top in an even layer. Pour in the broth; the beans and the ham will be mostly covered. Add the salt and sugar and stir gently to incorporate.
Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring a few times to ensure even cooking. Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated and the beans are soft, about 10 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Stir in the pepper and serve.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.